Round one to Sebastien! The Citroen Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena has come out on top after the first round of a high-octane battle with the pairing of Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen. By winning three of the four special...
Round one to Sebastien!
The Citroen Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena has come out on top after the first round of a high-octane battle with the pairing of Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen. By winning three of the four special stages between Sainte Marie Sicche and Propriano today, the reigning World Champions have built up a small but valuable lead of 19.9 precious seconds.
Following the example of their team leader, Kronos Racing's young Spaniards finish the day in fifth and sixth places, with Dani Sordo/Marc Marti just ahead of Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. This makes it three Xsaras in the top six.
A tense `decider' was expected between the Seb/Daniel pairing and that of Marcus/Timo each of which has taken two victories from the four rallies held so far this year. From the very first metre of special stage and the opening split times it was clear that nobody would be disappointed : a fierce battle was underway. Seb struck the first blow by winning `Ampaza-Col St Eustache' (SS1), breaking his own record of last year by nearly 17 seconds. Marcus was forced to concede 8.3 seconds, but still beat the record as well.
Marcus wasted little time in his response. On `Aullene-Arbellara' (SS2) the warring duo once again broke the stage record, and the Finn took back 3.4 seconds. At midday service, Seb commented : "I wonder if I just relaxed a bit too much after beating him on the opening stage by more than eight seconds. I should have attacked the second stage a bit more consistently. "
The Citroen driver heeded his own warning on the second loop of stages. Having won `Ampaza' (SS3) for the second time, Seb kept his foot to the floor on `Aullene' (SS4) and on this occasion had the better of his rival. It was an understandably satisfied Seb that returned to the Kronos service area at the port of Ajaccio. "On the Catalunya Rally, as soon as I found a set-up that suited me, Marcus hit problems, " he said. "So I was very curious to see what would happen here. It's exactly as I expected. The battle is very close, with a Xsara that is on fighting form. Of course, I had to mount a proper attack. I had to brake late and not give an inch for corner after corner. It's certainly tight. But I had no real scares, and we have to try and keep going at this rhythm. "
Xevi Pons was able to show an impressive turn of speed throughout the opening leg, with third-fastest time on SS1. The Spaniard said : " I was slowed down by a big vibration from the front-right tyre in the second stage. During the afternoon's loop of stages, I thought I had found a good rhythm. I was forced to slow it down a bit towards the end, as I noticed that my brakes were going off. The pedal was getting lower and lower. We'll get all this fixed now for tomorrow... "
Dani Sordo conceded about half a minute on `Ampaza 1', then a bit of time on `Aullène 1' as well. An electronic problem that affected his Xsara was swiftly fixed by the Kronos mechanics at midday service. "The second loop of stages went very well, " reported Dani, who battled his way up to fifth place from 13th." It felt particularly good on `Aullène'. I like the shape of the stage and its rhythm. I needed to be careful, as on the second run the roads are always quite dirty. Tonight I'm about 20 seconds off the podium. If everything goes well, I hope to get a bit closer tomorrow... "